If you're trying to decide whether you should spend class time developing relationships with and amongst your students or working on the curriculum toward the longest-term objectives, I think you're asking the wrong question.
When people set off on a Mount Everest trek (says the guy who has, of course, done this many times), they don't spend an hour doing relationship-building games, or multiple hours creating “This is Who I Am” projects. Instead, they set off on the trek, and as the peak comes into view, their sense of community coheres around that shared, daunting, thrilling goal. They develop relationships as a byproduct of working toward this challenging thing together.
So I don't really budget class time for the developing of relationships. Even our very first activity is just as much about introducing argumentative claims as it is relationship-building, and that's about as ice-breakery as it gets. No multi-day autobiographical activities — we just dive into the work, no big sharing time.
Sure, I do things in the first month of school that help me get to know the kids and help me develop good relationships with them. I:
- Learn their names within a week;
- Track moments of genuine connection; and
- Ask them to turn in occasional reflections aimed at noncognitive factor leveraging (e.g., this writing prompt that helps build self-regulation; this one that works on expectancy-value), and these teach me about the kids as learners.
And those first weeks of school certainly give kids a chance to get to know one another, through:
- Daily think-pair-shares (and daily seating chart changes);
- An initial series of pop-up debates that improve public speaking comfort.
But relationships aren't the objective in any of this stuff — they are the byproducts of the big objective, of us getting closer together as Everest comes into view.
Front and center during those first weeks, I'm trying to communicate, in any way that I can, who we are and what we're working toward. In the AP class for ninth graders, we're working toward not just a test in May during which the odds say we're supposed to fail — we're also working toward becoming the kind of people who flourish long-term. In the non-AP class, we're working toward mastering world history. In all of the classes I teach, the curricula may look different (though it has the same three layers), but the vision-setting is the same. We're all on the same team, in the same family, working toward the same, important thing: becoming the best people we can be.
And along the way, the relationships come: in all their joy and mess and substance and utility and goodness.